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If at First You Don't Succeed... 

Fair Game

Published May 20, 2009 at 8:01 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Try, try again.

That is turning out to be the motto of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in the face of an increasingly emboldened Democratic legislature.

Just six weeks ago, Douglas said he would veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. He did — and lost.

Last week, Douglas said he would veto a Democratic-crafted budget that sailed through the Vermont House by a 91-52 margin and a slimmer 18-10 split in the Vermont Senate. He will and, on June 2, it’s likely he’ll lose — again.

Douglas unveiled a revised budget plan late Tuesday, but the details are largely irrelevant. Why? Rhetoric. The guv keeps saying the Dems’ budget raises too much in taxes, cuts too little and puts off hard choices. The Dems say the guv is trying to solve a three-year problem by forcing state government to make dramatic cuts and layoffs in one year. They say his budget lets the wealthy off the hook.

Each side will now see who blinks first. It looks like blinkmanship, er, brinksmanship has supplanted leadership in Vermont.

And what if there’s no budget by June 30? Vermont’s been there, done that. Once.

It was 1961 and Republican F. Ray Keyser Jr. was governor. The legislature didn’t adjourn until August 1 that year — the date they gave final approval to a state budget. So, how’d they fund essential services?

State Archivist Gregory Sanford said lawmakers fast-tracked a bill in the last couple days of June that appropriated $5 million, “or so much thereof that may be necessary,” to cover the spending gap. The temporary spending bill was approved June 28. Wow, $5 million. That’s pocket change these days. Lunch money.

Ironically, the 1961 session’s gridlock gave birth to Vermont’s modern Democratic Party. In 1963, Democrat Phil Hoff made Keyser a one-term governor and became the first of his party ever elected Vermont’s chief executive.

Almost 50 years later, not much has changed. The race for governor in 2010 is what it’s all about right now, not just differences over line items in a budget.

“I don’t think he’s going to get the leadership back to the table,” notes political observer Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College prof. “I think he’s decided that this can be just as successful as a campaign issue in 2010 … even though how Vermont’s economy does in the next 18 months will not be affected by decisions made in Montpelier but by decisions made in Washington and in the global financial markets.”

True enough. But few are more skilled than Douglas at beating up the Democrats with their own ideas.

The dynamic duo of Speaker Shap Smith and Majority Leader Floyd Nease could deliver three veto overrides in one session: same-sex marriage, the budget and a bill promoting renewable energy. Douglas’ veto of a bill holding the owners of Vermont Yankee responsible for shoring up the plant’s decommissioning fund is expected to stand.

“If Douglas ends up losing multiple vetoes, it could empower the Democrats to push a more far-reaching agenda in 2010,” said Davis. “And I could see Speaker Smith and the gubernatorial candidate working in a coordinated way so the sort of things that the candidate is talking about on the campaign trail are being passed by the legislature. Even if [Douglas] vetoes them, it would be an effective approach.”

A Democratic legislature and Democratic gubernatorial candidate joining forces to oust a Republican governor?

That’d be a first.

And They’re Off! — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) met with key Progressives Saturday in hopes of avoiding a split ticket on the left in 2010.

“We need to work together,” he told “Fair Game.” If not, a split left might well help reelect Douglas. Again.

About 50 Progs gathered at the Old Labor Hall in Barre to hear Racine speak for about an hour, said Morgan Daybell, executive director of the Progressive Party.

“There was nothing conclusive,” said Daybell, “but, to his credit, he is reaching out to Progressives.”

Some Progressives are still miffed that Democrats snubbed Anthony Pollina in 2007, when the Prog tried to seek Democratic support in his run for governor. The Dems ended up running one of their own: outgoing House Speaker Gaye Symington.

In a Saturday letter to members of the state Democratic Committee, Racine’s chief rival at the moment — Secretary of State Deb Markowitz — said Democrats shouldn’t worry about what the Progs do.

“That being said, what we learned in 2009 is that, working together, the Democrats and Progressives can make history,” she noted to fellow Dems. “Think about it: Marriage equality would not have passed without the Democrats and Progressives coming together.”

Markowitz is reaching out to Progressives individually, along with Republicans and Independents, to add to her Democratic support.

She’s also put together a sharp team of Democratic organizers. She recently hired Reid DeWolfe, who worked on Andy Montroll’s mayoral campaign in Burlington. DeWolfe joins Jason Powell, formerly Pres. Barack Obama’s Vermont organizer. DeWolfe is also the stepson of Kathy DeWolfe, the state elections director.

The DeWolfes can now say they have the same boss, sort of: Kathy works for Markowitz, the secretary of state; Reid works for Markowitz, the gubernatorial candidate.

Racine has also added a staffer: Rep. Mark Larson (D-Burlington), who made a valiant bid for House Speaker last year, will help Racine with organizing and other campaign tasks. He joins Sam Winship, a UVM grad turned national Democratic Party activist.

Racine is ramping up his fundraising effort to catch up with Markowitz in an effort to dispel the notion that he’s unfit for another shot at Douglas. He lost to the Republican guv in 2002 by 2.5 percentage points.

“I admit I made some mistakes,” said Racine. “I wasn’t aggressive enough in responding to what was a negative campaign. I won’t let that happen again.”

Other popular pols have lost statewide races and survived, Madeleine Kunin and Peter Welch among them. Even a guy by the name of Jim Douglas lost to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in 1992.

It’s Raining Dems — While the GOP struggles to find candidates to run for higher office, Dems are tripping over themselves to announce their plans for 2010. Other than Racine and Markowitz, State Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille) is serious about running for governor. Mulling it over are President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) and former Windsor County Senator Matt Dunne.

On the lite-guv side, Rep. Floyd Nease (D-Johnson) is “seriously considering” a run, while 2008 candidate Tom Costello isn’t ruling one out.

Others said to be interested in the No. 2 job include Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor) and Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. For Donovan, a more important occasion looms in his future.

“The only date I’m focusing on right now is August 1,” Donovan said. “That’s my wedding day.”

His SA term ends in 2010, and he’s got time to consider his options. As with marriage, only fools jump in, right?

No fool is the award-winning blogger, novelist and UVM English prof Philip Baruth. The 47-year-old publisher of Vermont Daily Briefing filed papers Monday to run for Chittenden County Senate in 2010.

Given its size, Chittenden County is a tough race for a newcomer. That’s one reason Baruth is announcing early. Very early.

Baruth was elected to a two-year seat on the Burlington School Board in March and serves on the board’s finance committee. Before that he was on the Obama bandwagon before there was a band or a wagon. With George W. Bush out of the picture, he’s set his sights closer to home.

“The Bush years are gone, but the Douglas years are still with us,” notes Baruth. “We are seeing opportunities pass us by because of his inaction.”

Don’t underestimate Baruth. His smiling mug on VDB belies — or indicates? — killer political skills. You could even say Baruthless.

His surprise victory last summer against 50 bare-knuckle politicos for one of three Obama delegate slots to the DNC convention in Denver is still being analyzed by the experts. It’s the stuff of legend.

We wish him the best of luck, anyway.

Anchors Away! — The revolving door between the media and the administration of Gov. Douglas took another swing last week, when a top official announced he was leaving public service to join a news organization.

Anson Tebbetts, the deputy secretary of agriculture and a former WCAX-TV reporter, is succeeding veteran WCAX-TV news director and nightly anchor Marselis Parsons. Parsons announced last week he’s giving up a position he’s held since 1984. He’s been with Channel 3 since 1967.

Parsons will remain in the anchor’s chair through the summer. After that he’ll turn over his on-air duties to Darren Perron, who will co-anchor the 6 p.m. news with Kristin Kelly.

Tebbetts will take over Parsons’ behind-the-scenes duties.

Douglas said, “Anson has been an invaluable member of my team. His knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to Vermont agriculture will be sorely missed.”

Sorely missed, eh? Interest-ing, given that Douglas was about to RIF Tebbetts. Yep, of the 320 workers being handed pink slips, “Deputy Secretary of Agriculture” was one of them. There are two ag deputies: One oversees administration and personnel; the other, ag development. David Lane, who joined the Douglas team in 2003, is the deputy who oversees administration and personnel.

Kelly Loftus, an ag spokeswoman, said either post could have been cut. But sources familiar with the original list say Tebbetts’ position number was listed.

We’ve heard plenty of grumbling from media folk who were disappointed that Roger Garrity didn’t get the job. He’s been anchoring the station’s 11 p.m. news slot since 1993 and producing the 6 p.m. news program since 1998.

Sure, Tebbetts is a good pick, but Garrity has been working his way up the ranks. He’s a big presence behind the scenes as well as on camera. Nice guy, too.

Peter Martin, the station’s general manager, said Tebbetts’ selection is not a reflection on Garrity’s abilities.

“We thought through what it was we needed for the next three to five to 10 years,” Martin said. “In the end, Anson was the person whom we felt was best suited for the job.”

Just goes to show: That door swings both ways.

Slipped Disc — Reversing his position from a year ago, Burlington’s Parks & Recreation Director Wayne Gross told city parks commissioners to reject a proposal to build a disc golf course at Leddy Park.

The commission met Tuesday night after Seven Days’ print deadline to discuss Gross’ recommendation and take a vote of their own.

Park neighbors have been upset with Gross since last summer, when he gave the OK to clear portions of the park’s woods for a disc golf course.

And Gross thought firing Waterfront Manager Adam Cate was controversial. Never underestimate the power of the Lorax, my friend. Never.

Got a news tip? Email Shay at [email protected]

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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